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News Navigator: Are these the last days of AM radio in Japan? And what is 'Wide FM'?

A radio with an FM dial going up to 108 megahertz. (Mainichi/Tomohiro Inoue)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the future of Japan's radio waves, including the end of AM broadcasts and something called "Wide FM."

Question: I've heard that AM radio is ending. Is that true?

Answer: AM radio broadcasts are not going to end overnight. However, falling ad revenue and other problems have made it difficult for AM stations to repair aging facilities and update their equipment. In March, the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (JBA) requested an expert committee at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry to recommend changing Japan's broadcast regulations to allow stations to stop broadcasting on AM frequencies and concentrate on Wide FM bands. The parties concerned are now discussing what should happen to AM radio, which has been part of our lives for so long.

Q: So what's "Wide FM"?

A: When terrestrial TV broadcasting completed the switch from analogue to digital in 2011, it vacated a swathe of broadcasting frequencies. Newly available FM bands were parceled out to AM stations for disaster information broadcasting and programs for people with hearing impairments. Some of the stations began regular programming on these "Wide FM" frequencies at the end of 2014, and now over half of Japan's 47 AM radio companies can be heard on FM as well, as a "compliment" to their main broadcasts.

Q: So why is Wide FM called "Wide"?

A: The Tokyo area stations of TBS Radio & Communications Inc., Nippon Culture Broadcasting Inc., and Nippon Broadcasting Inc. began using the term "Wide FM" as a marketing name when they started using the FM bands in 2015. In Japan, regular FM frequencies go up to 90 megahertz, whereas the "complimentary" bands being used by AM stations go up to 95 MHz, hence the "wide" moniker.

Q: Can I listen to Wide FM on my radio?

A: A quick look at your radio should give you the answer. Does the tuning dial go up to 95 MHz? Many older radios only go up to 90 MHz, but a lot of machines originally made for export have FM dials that go all the way up to 108 MHz. It's said that most radios and car stereos on the market now can get Wide FM frequencies, but adoption remains an ongoing process. You should definitely check before you make a purchase!

(Japanese original by Tomohiro Inoue, Cultural News Department)

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